How to Improve a Team’s Performance: Do These 3 Things

Do you give your employees regular feedback? What are ways to improve a team’s performance?

To build a strong team, you must manage your employees’ performance by providing regular feedback, conducting periodic performance reviews, and enforcing discipline when appropriate. These techniques will help you enhance their overall productivity.

Check out how to improve a team’s performance, according to The First-Time Manager by Jim McCormick.

1. Give Regular Feedback

According to McCormick, a good manager makes sure their employees know how well they’re performing by providing feedback on a regular, ongoing basis. There are two types of feedback you can give: praise to encourage positive behavior and constructive criticism to help someone improve their behavior or performance.

When giving praise, describe in detail the work or behavior you’re praising. This helps people understand what behaviors you’re looking for and makes them more likely to behave similarly in the future. Also, describe the positive outcome that resulted from their actions because people enjoy feeling like they’re contributing to something greater.

(Shortform note: In Nonviolent Communication, Marshall B. Rosenberg suggests you also express the positive emotion that resulted from the praiseworthy action. For example, if an employee shared an innovative solution to a problem, you could also mention how it made you feel excited. Rosenberg writes that sharing how someone’s behavior made you feel (in addition to describing the behavior and what they accomplished) makes your praise less judgmental and easier to accept.)

When giving constructive criticism, McCormick recommends you focus on addressing the behavior and not judging the person, which degrades people’s confidence and performance. Treat the behavior as a misunderstanding, ask for their input instead of doing all the talking, and give this criticism in private, such as in your office, so people feel less embarrassed.

Balance Praise and Criticism to Avoid Feedback Fatigue

Many experts agree on the value of frequent feedback but note that finding the right balance of praise and criticism is crucial for motivating your employees to perform better. In When They Win, You Win, Laraway suggests you aim for a ratio of five-to-one positive to negative pieces of feedback. Giving too much criticism makes people defensive and reluctant to make improvements. It can also cause people to experience feedback fatigue—or feeling overwhelmed and mentally drained by too much feedback. This happens because feedback requires change, which is often hard to do.

In addition to following Laraway’s ratio, there are some other ways to combat feedback fatigue: Decide on the most important feedback and give it first. Then, wait until the person has implemented it before giving more feedback.

If you notice you’re repeatedly giving negative feedback to the same person, try to dial it back: First, tell the other person that you gave them too much feedback. Then, reaffirm their competence by acknowledging their positive behaviors and work. Finally, ask for their input on the best steps to move forward.

2. Conduct Performance Reviews

In addition to having informal feedback conversations, McCormick advises that you also conduct formal performance reviews once or twice a year to improve your team’s performance. These are periodic evaluations of each employee’s work that let them know how well they’re meeting expectations and how they can improve. According to McCormick, employees often want more feedback than many managers may assume.

(Shortform note: In No Rules Rules, Reed Hastings describes an alternative approach to performance reviews: an annual 360-degree review. During these reviews, everyone can evaluate and give feedback to one another, not just the manager. These can be written or conducted live. Either way, allow employees to give feedback to anyone—to bosses, coworkers, and subordinates—and encourage recipients to follow up about ways to improve. Encouraging feedback on all levels allows you to capitalize on the intelligence and perspectives of all team members, maximizing your organization’s ability to grow and improve.)

McCormick adds that you should be fair, honest, and objective when conducting performance reviews. Avoid rating every team member as satisfactory or above. This may be tempting to do, but giving inaccurate ratings deprives employees of the opportunity to grow and improve.

(Shortform note: To make objective evaluations of your team members, Michael Watkins, in The First 90 Days, recommends using six criteria to assess them: competence, judgment, energy, focus, relationships, and trust. If you still find it hard to be honest or objective during your evaluations, consider seeking an expert outside of your team who can help assess an employee’s functional skills.)

3. Resolve Work Problems and Enforce Discipline

You’ll also need to know how to resolve work problems and take disciplinary actions when appropriate. This ensures your team maintains high standards and people are fairly rewarded for their efforts.

If you experience behavioral or performance problems with an employee, McCormick suggests you create a performance improvement plan. You can make one by dividing a sheet of paper into three sections—strengths, areas of improvement, and goals. Then, work with your employee to fill out each section and decide on a time frame for the goals.

(Shortform note: Some experts argue that, while well-intentioned, performance improvement plans (PIPs) can often make things worse, not better, because they cause employees to feel insecure about their jobs. Instead, they recommend you discuss behavioral or performance issues and goals for improvement during your regular one-on-one meetings. Try to encourage honest conversations and understand the root cause of the behavior.)

You may need to occasionally dismiss an employee. Before you fire a worker, McCormick suggests you consider all possible alternatives, such as giving them additional training. However, while firing people can be hard, it’s often beneficial for the employee—they’ll likely be thankful to be in a position that better suits their strengths. Before dismissing someone, McCormick suggests you check that you have their performance or behavior documented to avoid potential lawsuits.

(Shortform note: McCormick recommends firing employees only as a last resort, but others advocate moving more quickly to dismiss problematic workers. In No Rules Rules, Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings says you should fire any employee you wouldn’t fight to keep on your team. Instead of spending money and time on performance improvement plans, Hastings suggests offering a generous severance package. To have a top-tier team, you must replace good employees with great employees, he writes.)

How to Improve a Team’s Performance: Do These 3 Things

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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